Because John Wick wasn't quite done with Japan

posted by Traveller Original SA post

Blood and Honor

Because John Wick wasn't quite done with Japan

Let's take a look at John Wick's latest samurai RPG, Blood and Honor ! It was based on Wick's previous Houses of the Blooded, and from what I understand it works in a similar manner. For those playing at home, John Wick was one of the main writers behind the well-known fantasy samurai RPG Legend of the Five Rings, based on the eponymous CCG. Well, the first edition, at any rate. John Wick is also known for, uh. Well. He thinks highly of himself, he does.

So, on with the book! It opens with a BUYER BEWARE section because this is NOT A HISTORY BOOK and he has taken a few liberties with Old Japan, because the real Japan was a lot uglier and shit. Apparently he did the same when he was working on 7th Sea! So this is supposed to be a game about samurai drama and warring Clans and suffering characters, but not historically accurate. Eh, it's basically the same warning/excuse as in L5R. But we're going to have fun, right?

John Wick posted:

If you'd rather play a game where your character always makes the right choice, always increases his skills, always comes out smelling like a rose

(Only I can't exactly do that, Wick, because I bought the electronic version and this little warning wasn't in the preview PDF. )

John Wick posted:

After all, it’s my name on the spine. You should know what you are getting into.


All of the art is taken from Library of Congress pre-1915 woodblock prints. They're quite cool, really.

So, on with Clan generation! Yes, we start generating Clans first because that's what the game revolves around, warring Clans. It's the Sengoku period, baby. Technically, the group can either make a single Clan together, or divide themselves in different Clans, but the game is honestly made with one Clan for all in mind. Why? You'll see.

First of all, a Clan daimyo (lord) has to be designated. He starts at Rank 1, and his rank is determined by the number of Provinces his Clan holds. Don't worry, the game doesn't go full Total War on us. There are a number of daimyo personalities to choose from, with advantages and disadvantages: a Clever daimyo, for instance, can get all of his samurai good quality equipment every season, but also gives all the samurai under their command the Non-Traditionalist tag (and this being JAPAN, it's quite a disadvantage). Then the Clan gets to choose a Virtue they favor: Beauty, Courage, Cunning, Prowess, Strength and Wisdom are the choices. This will matter latter because of Reasons. Then, we get to pick---

Oh, wait, there is a sidebar here. I wonder what it---

John Wick posted:

"But I want to play a Ronin!"
So you want to play a wave man, eh? Okay. Here are the rules.
Make a character. You get no Clan points. All your equipment is poor quality. You have no horse, no food, nothing. Oh, and samurai treat you like a coward. You didn't have the courage to kill yourself when your daimyo died.
Playing a ronin is the modern equivalent of playing a homeless person in modern America. [...]


Where was I... oh, yes! Holdings . Each player can pick one Holding (building, basically) for their daimyo's initial province. Stuff like blacksmiths, Buddhist temples, gambling dens, rice farms, geisha houses, etc. They all start at Rank 1: if players want a holding to have a higher rating, they all have to sacrifice their Holding picks for a single raise. Magnanimously, Wick is not entirely against it.

Then, because this is a FATE-based game, the Clan gets four Aspects , tags that provide advantages and disadvantages. Each Clan has by default the None of Us is as Great as All of Us aspect, which adds dice when players work with each other but can also be compelled to force them to act honorably. Interestingly enough, some pages later Wick explains that in playtests this used to be a free pick, but since like three of every four groups picked it, he decided to make it a default aspect. There are many other Aspects to pick, and it's easy to simulate your favorite L5R clan with them. Scorpion? Pick the ones that make your Clan members seductive, good liars, and good at keeping secrets. Your Clan will also succumb to other seductive advances, become compulsive liars, and go out of their way to discover secrets, but them's the breaks. Characters from a Clan get to pick two of these Aspects when they are created.

Players pick a meibutsu , an object or good from their province that is famed across Japan - the best takoyaki is in Osaka and don't let them tell you anything else. Then, a name and heraldry for the clan (which must have a meaning, as if it can be brought into play it can grant bonus dice) and finally each player gets to decide one thing that is capital-T True about their Clan and province, as long as they don't contradict a previous truth. The sensei at the dojo is blind; the daimyo's wife is unfaithful; there's a forest full of ghost spiders. Anything goes.

Oh, and in the Clan generation example, they come up with the name of Hashiba, which according to Wick means roughly "gentlemen."

John Wick posted:

I'm often very tolerant of... let's call them "creative" use of Japanese names.


So, characters! First, they get a name (same deal as Clan name, they get a bonus die to roll if the meaning matters), then a Giri or duty. Characters are bigshots in their daimyo's court: they are the chief courtiers, generals, personal bodyguards and spymasters. They all start at Rank 1, of course. Duties carry advantages and benefits: Generals, for instance, get bonus dice when leading samurai, they can read the battlefield and provide bonuses for other characters, and they have a number of ashigaru warriors utterly loyal to them that can never be swayed or forced to betray them. Then it's the Virtues , like in the Clan section: Virtues act as stats, basically. One of them starts at rank 4, two at rank 3, two at rank 1 and the final one is their weakness and provides no dice at all in rolls. Then, as mentioned earlier, the character picks two of the Clan aspects , and gets the None of Us aspect for free. But hey, you can ditch that rule if you want and let them pick the third aspect. It's your game! Except if you're trying to play ronin what the fuck is wrong with you.

The Oniwaban will cut you if you bring any more of that treasonous ronin talk to the table.

Characters start with two points of Honor , which go into the Honor Pool (more on this later) and one rank of Glory , as a lesser-known samurai. Each Glory rank comes with a reputation: best sword fighter, wise counselor, etc. Finally, they get one single capital-A Advantage , that modifies the way the character plays quite a bit: Blood Oath , for instance, means the character has sworn to fulfill a goal and literally can never, ever die until they get a shot at it. But once they get their shot, they will die for good. Other Advantages are not quite as dramatic, but they all separate the character from the average samurai.

Finally, Age is determined. It's not the character's literal age, but the number of "Age Points" they have. One single d6 roll, and we'll see why Age points matter later. Oh, and in the sample character generation, the samurai is named Hayate, which Wick chooses to interpret as "smooth." Which I can kind of see, squinting and cocking my head.

Next: FATE can do R&K too. And Wushu.

I would Compel you but you already Invoked it

posted by Traveller Original SA post

Blood and Honor

I would Compel your , but you already Invoked it

Systems! The basic roll is called a Risk , and it's about rolling a number of d6s (from Virtues, Aspects, etc.) and adding them up a target number of 10. Now, this doesn't determine if the action succeeds or fails - instead, because this is one of them newfangled story games, beating the TN means that the player gets to narrate the outcome of the action. Failing it means that the GM does so. So, for instance, a character investigates a room to find out how the daimyo's favorite concubine was murdered, makes his roll, and the player determines that he's found a clue, poison in her lips. Since you can end up racking lots of dice that would easily beat the TN, you can set some of them aside as Wagers , which increase the effect of the success. So in the previous example, the player may set three dice apart from the roll, and if they make it, the character not only finds poison in the dead concubine's lips, but also similar poison on some rice spilled on the floor, the lock to the room's window in perfect condition, but still open. Of course, failing the roll means the player gets nothing out of the wagers. Wagers cannot contradict established elements of a scene, or get something done that would require rolling a risk.

Contested rolls are similar: characters state how many dice they will roll, secretly make wagers and reveal them at the same time, then roll the dice. The one with the higher total gets narrating privileges and decides who can use a wager first, while the loser or losers only get half their wagers rounded up, and that's even if they make the roll in the first place. To continue with the investigator examples, he might be questioning someone regarding the concubine's murder. In the example, the suspect wins, and declares that the investigator believes him, then uses a wager to state that the investigator suspects someone else. Then the investigator uses a remaining wager to say that there is a hole in the suspect's story that he has not found out yet, and so on.

Aspects! Well, most of you already know how FATE works, but in short: they're defining traits that can be invoked for bonus dice, or compelled by opponents as a disadvantage to get them bonus dice.

Honor! Honor is, uh, not really well defined, because Wick just loves the disagreement and discussion. It's what Clans live and die for, after all! Mechanics wise, there is an Honor Pool for everyone to use. It first starts with a number of points equal to the total Honor Rank of the present characters, though I'm not sure how that jives with the "starting characters add 2 honor points" thing from chargen. Anyway, a Honor Point can be spent in adding 4 bonus dice to a roll, or add details to the story like a free floating wager, with all accompanying restrictions. Honor Points are added to the pool by taking risks in the Clan's interests (not yours), upholding the Clan's honor, putting your samurai in danger while fulfilling an obligation, fulfilling the Clan's definition of BUSHIDAH BUSHIDO, and general GM praise. Honor Points are lost if characters do disgraceful things, or if players don't treat the game with the respect it deserves by checking the cellphone or quoting Monty Python or whatever.

Oh, and of course, characters can commit seppuku. Courage + Giri roll, and they restore 4 Honor Points to the pool + wagers. So yeah, slashing your belly open in ritualistic fashion provides a mechanical benefit. And I thought this wasn't Riki-Oh The RPG!

Glory! Characters get Glory Points for doing noteworthy, spectacular stuff, or by making wagers specifically for Glory (2 wagers = 1 Glory point) These points can be added to existing reputations the character has, if they apply. Reputations can be used to add dice to appropriate rolls, depending on their level. If the GM judges that a character has done something against a reputation, they may judge it is tainted and the character can no longer call upon it until it has been cleansed in play (earning ten Glory points relevant to the reputation) The number of total reputations a character may have is limited by Giri Rank, and if a character wants a new one after the slots are full they must abandon a previous one.



Oh. Man. Combat.

John Wick posted:

When a sword maker tests a katana, a well-made katana, he tests it on a pile of bodies stacked stomach to back. h e number of bodies the katana cuts through is the number put on the blade. “Four man blade.” “Five man blade.”
Now, imagine getting hit with one of these things. Then imagine asking, “How many hit points do I lose?"

John Wick loves them katana. Also, combat is deliberately abstract because you know how those other STORY GAMES become "authentic strategic simulations" when it gets to fighting and of course he won't do that for this game. First, Injuries! They are ranked from 1 (cuts, bruises) to 5 (don't expect to get up any time soon this year), and are basically aspects that can be tagged by opponents for bonus dice. They also end up adding Honor Points to your Honor Pool if they do so, though.

Combat itself starts when someone calls "Strike!" at the table. No initiative rolls or anything, because that's how violence works. Calling a Strike gets you two bonus dice, unless the target specifically declared to be on guard before (and being on guard all the time is just bad form .) Then, characters make a contested Prowess risk: the winner, as usual, determines the result of the strike. Usually, damage starts as a level 1 Injury, plus any successful damage wagers - unless you get hit with a katana, in which case you simply die. Because that's how samurai drama works, bitch. Oh, you can burn a Honor Point to reduce death by katana to a Rank 5 Injury, but still. Katana in this game rock. Firearms are even better as not even Honor can save you from getting one-shotted, and even peasants can use them, as one Oda Nobunaga could attest to. Duels are similar to how they worked in L5R, though more formalized with regards to how wagers are spent and such. You can also get Glory from those, unless you're fighting a real weakling. Oh, and yowamushi ("weaklings"), non-samurai NPCs or unnamed samurai, die as soon as someone says "I kill the guy."

John Wick posted:

If you didn’t read the introduction, go back and do that now. If you skipped it, here it is again.
If you want to know the rules for armor and why a no-dachi doesn’t do more damage than a katana or why a wakizashi doesn’t do less, I have an answer for you.
This isn’t a game about historical accuracy or creating authentic combat simulations. There are plenty of other games doing that just fine. Go play those. This is a game about recreating samurai tragedy. Too many roleplaying games claim they are about storytelling, but then, as soon as the swords come out, the game stops and it suddenly becomes an exercise in futility as players are forced to keep track of every detail that happens every second.
I’m not doing that here.

You heard him, rollplayers.

Characters can also be involved in multiplayer fights, in which case characters go down in initiative from the highest roll downwards. Wick says this system is taken straight from Houses of the Blooded, but I can't confirm that. He also says to listen to Sun Tzu and Musashi and not getting into fights that cannot be won because combat is deadly don't you know , but they would probably tell you to bash people in the head with oars. At least Musashi would, because oar > katana.


Next, there's some stuff on how to use retainers in combat and... Magic and Religion! Shinto, Buddhism, Zen, Japanese syncretism, it's all there. There are no shugenja, though, but onmyouji, one of the available character roles, which are basically mystic advisors to the daimyo. Of course, there are no spells or anything, because that shit is too Western for Blood and Honor, but---

John Wick posted:

One of these days I’m going to write a roleplaying game where I write the statement, “Christian/Jewish/Islamic characters can pray to their god if they like; whether or not he actually exists is another matter.” It’s perfectly all right to question the faiths of people who live on the other side of an ocean, but as soon as I put the God of the Book under scrutiny, suddenly, I’m all controversial and stuff.

apropos of fucking nothing

---onmyouji can make Wisdom risks to determine stuff about magic, and make talismans and charms for fellow characters (one per Onmyouji rank, equals to a free wager). They can also make predictions at the beginning of each adventure, which grant bonus dice to characters involved if they come to pass. A Buddhist Monastery Holding can get properly meditating characters a Meditation Point, that can be used before any roll to turn it into a ten, but must be spent before rolling and declaring wagers. A Shinto shrine can provide Blessings, which only work once by season but are pretty cool stuff, like instantly telling if a character is telling the truth or not.

Next: Wick does Birthright.

Off to war we go

posted by Traveller Original SA post

Blood and Honor

Off to war we go

Domain management rules, woo! The game flows from Season to Season: each adventure or campaign should last roughly one season. It's assumed all games begin in Spring, moving on to Summer, Autumn and Winter. The daimyo gets a Season Action each season, plus extra actions for each Province he rules over. So a basic, fresh out of chargen (clangen?) daimyo starts with 2 season actions, one for being the daimyo and another for ruling one Province. Provinces are deliberately abstract, and their actual size is unimportant.

John Wick posted:

(I like abstract. Gives players room to be creative with their stuff. If you want to be more precise, there are a ton of other games with similar systems that deal with specifics. Use those.)

The daimyo (controlled by the GM, characters are expected to roleplay their arguments for how the daimyo should act) can use the season actions for, first, building or improving Holdings. It takes one season to build or improve a Holding up to Rank 3, and each province can only support 10 Holdings. There are 12 different types, though, so you don't end up without access to half of the tech tree such as it is. Special mention goes to the Sumo School, that provides a number of free floating Strength wagers and the ability for samurai to ignore any weapon Injury not caused by katana. But don't try jumping in front of cannons or anything because only wankers abuse rules. Lose three Honor, jerk.

Second, the daimyo can order his Holdings to craft items . Without appropriate Holdings, any gear created is of normal quality, but with them they can become of Good, Fine or Exquisite quality. Swords are a special case because all equipment is lost at the end of the year, but they last forever. A good blacksmith can also provide swords with Qualities : free wagers, strikes and whatnot. Characters can also get Koku (money) from some Holdings: it's assumed that, as court officers, their basic needs are covered and they can commandeer necessary resources from the daimyo's lands, but having Koku on hand lets them get bonuses relative to their Giri, or obtain items without the daimyo having to spend an action.

Third, they can spend a Season Action to train their samurai , choosing a character and raising their Giri Rank in one, or giving them an extra Aspect (up to a maximum of three Aspects + Wisdom). A Dojo Holding can provide extra training actions.

And fourth, they can order espionage on rival daimyo. There are five different kinds of spies to use, based on the Five Spies of Sun Tzu: local spies provide counterintelligence in your lands, inward spies are spies in the enemy's court, converted spies are double agents that report to you instead of the enemy, doomed spies are sacrificial lambs that feed disinformation, and surviving spies go into the enemy's lands and can spy on their Holdings and production or sabotage them. Wick strongly suggests making Espionage rolls the only secret rolls in the game, but if you want to make them above board, he is not going to stop you.

Oh, there are pregnancy rules, but who cares about that.

After a year ends, characters again roll a d6 and add it to their Age Point total. When they get 60 points, their character moves on to their next stage in life, starting in Spring (just like seasons) with accompanying changes. They can change their name from season to season, switch around their Virtues, and gain new aspects - but when moving from Summer to Autumn or from Autumn to Winter, they get unavoidable Winter Aspects , which are basically age-related disadvantages.

War! Okay, War is kind of legit cool. This is the Sengoku period, and war is basically inevitable. Each neighbor with you has a War Rank that start at 1. With every season, the War Rank goes up by one unless characters take deliberate action to prevent that (friendly duels, offering gifts, and such.) When the War Rank reaches 10, that's it, you're going to war and there's fuckall you can do to stop it. Characters can, of course, accelerate the course of events with insults, deadly duels, failed espionage actions and more, or even plain declaring war before the War Rank reaches 10. Each side in a war calculates their Advantage Points , depending on how well the courtiers can establish their moral high ground, the ability of their generals, the prediction of their onmyouji, the size, training and morale of their forces. Then it's off to war - each step of the war takes place in a Wave , that swallows up an entire season and prevents the daimyo from doing anything else in that season. Each side spends their Advantage points to cause casualties in the other side (their forces, their officers, their holdings), then surrender may be negotiated. If it doesn't happen, next season will see another wave of the war. War ends when one side surrenders (the fate of that daimyo and his officers is in the hands of the winners) or when one side loses all of their officers and troops. As you can see, going to war plain sucks , and it's in your best interest that it never comes to pass... but then again, war is the only way your daimyo will have new Provinces to play with.


And then it's on to Player and GM Advice and... oh god there is no way to make this funny. It's raw, undiluted Wick at its finest. Admittedly, it's not really, like, bad advice, not in the way of, for instance, Amber Diceless Roleplaying. Most of it seems cribbed from L5R 1E, which was not Paranoia or d20 Call of Cthulhu* but still was a pretty good resource from the beginner GM. Players are advised on meditating on what bushido means to them, to their characters, to their clan, how they relate to peasants, clergy, women, how they behave under the oppressive Japanese social structures, and so on. Other parts relate to how Blood and Honor itself works: Wick expects players to make the world their own with wagers, to narrate stuff without fear of the GM striking them down. Indeed, properly speaking the game doesn't call GMs "GM", but "Narrator". It's even expected that players allow other players to declare stuff about their characters, and Wick trusts players to not be dicks and fuck each other over. Unless, unless, people decide they don't want a friendly game, they want a cutthroat game, with secret messages, hidden character sheets and dicking each other over all the time.

John Wick posted:

[...] everyone signs an agreement. The agreement states the
This is a Cut-throat Game. We agree all but one of our characters will probably die. We agree this is the experience we want to have and will not be whimpering, sobbing little babies about it if we lose.
So say we all.

Even in friendly games, though, the point is that this is a game of TRAGEDY, and characters should die at the end with their last desire unfulfilled. So, uh, yeah. The only rules bit for the Player half of the advice chapters is that characters can go on a musha shugyo or warrior's pilgrimage. It's only possible to do so once in a samurai's lifetime, it takes a Season Action, and it raises their Giri Rank in one.

As for the GM advice section, players are told not to read it because it's like revealing magic tricks. Again, there is a lot of L5R here: using voices, walking around, describing and describing stuff, setting up the ambiance around the gaming table with Japanese snacks and lanterns, all that jazz. Parallel to the player section, GMs are advised not to fear the players running with the game: Wick describes a whole adventure the players themselves spun out of whole cloth and some wagers, that started with a vague description of a captured spy. GMs should not be afraid to simply take some time if players plain surprise them. Like say, if the spy master is meeting with the daimyo over the supposed unfaithfulness of his wife and he declares that not only is the wife being unfaithful with the spy master, but both are planning to murder the daimyo - and in fact, the spy master goes on to do exactly that. That game ended up Cut-throat mode real soon, though. Wick also goes over favorite samurai movies and how to use their plots in Blood and Honor, but I think there was an editing error or something since quite a few movies involve ronin getting shit done. A mistake, surely. A new daimyo personality is listed here, the Evil daimyo (taken from Sword of Doom) that lets characters gain Honor Points from dishonorable actions and lose them for moral, honorable actions. Some historical daimyo are described as well, along with their game personalities. Did you ever want to pull an Akechi Mitsuhide on Oda Nobunaga? Rock on.

And then Wick tells GMs to play dirty .

John Wick posted:

Okay. Now we’re cooking with gas.
I promised you a few miscellaneous notes from my experiences running the game. Here they are. In no particular order, in no particular style. Just some friendly advice from me to you, the Narrator.
Go kick their teeth in.


Players disagree on a course of action? Fuck them, take Honor from their pool because disagreement is dishonorable and tell them the one that burns the most Honor is right. Death is too easy, set them up for blackmail. A character wants to play that one concept that isn't part of the game? Like, say, playing a ronin in a Clan-based game? Sure, go ahead, just make their lives impossible while at it. The one example he mentions has a dude wanting to play a Zatoichi-style blind swordsman badass. Wick allows him to do so, but states upfront that without his sword, the character is completely helpless, and that he (well, the character's enemies, not Wick himself ) will do everything to put him in such a position. Apparently, that turned the player from munchkin into STORYTELLER.

The game ends with some basic rules for Sword Schools . Don't go here expecting Kakita shenanigans, though. There's not much to them, they are associated with a Virtue and with an Element (the Five Rings, of course), and provide bonus dice to Prowess risks, but are at a disadvantage against schools based on an element that bests their own. There's a Q&A section, clan and character sheets, and that's it!

Conclusion: at the end of the day, I can't say Blood and Honor is a bad game. Okay, it loses some points for me for being FATE based, but then again I still think BRP is cutting edge and wonder why people even try writing other systems. I'm not really sure on letting people determine stuff about other people's characters willy-nilly ("The enemy spy searches your room for blackmail material and finds evidence of your dalliance... with a ronin! ") but hey, it might be actually fun, what do I know. The clan generation stuff is cool, and I like how the War rules basically spawn plots and campaigns all by themselves.

But Jesus fuck , the Wickness conspires to make it almost unreadable. Fairly warned be ye, ronin lovers.

I ain't gonna front, this is a very cool picture.
*d20 CoC has one of the finest GM sections ever and I will punch people in the face over it.